Image-forming Devices – Techniques that Affect the Meaning of a Poem

“A picture paints a thousand words,” they say. In poetry, a word can paint a thousand imagery pictures. In literature, this is referred to as imagery.

Imagery has the capacity to appeal to all our bodily senses: eyes, nose, ears, skin, and tongue. These senses collectively create a space in our mind known as imagination. Imagery works by awakening the senses, allowing the mind to conjure images through the use of words. Let’s test the power of imagery and see the images it can produce in your mind. Read the selected passages from “Preludes” by T.S. Eliot, a critic, editor, and one of the major poets of the 20th century.

The winter evening settles down
With the smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet,
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street,
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

Imagery pertains to words that evoke sensory experiences, making us see, hear, touch, taste, move, or feel an internal sensation. Here are the types of imagery along with examples:

Visual Imagery:

  • Example: The golden sun dipped below the horizon, casting a warm glow over the tranquil ocean.

Auditory Imagery:

  • Example: The distant melody of wind chimes played a soothing symphony in the quiet night.

Tactile Imagery:

  • Example: The velvety petals of the rose begged to be touched, their softness inviting fingertips to explore.

Gustatory Imagery:

  • Example: The taste of ripe strawberries exploded on my tongue, a burst of sweetness that lingered with each juicy bite.

Olfactory Imagery:

  • Example: The air was filled with the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee, awakening the senses with its robust fragrance.

Kinesthetic Imagery:

  • Example: The dancer’s graceful movements across the stage conveyed a sense of fluidity and effortless motion.

Organic or Internal Sensation Imagery:

  • Example: The weight of grief settled in her chest, making every breath a laborious effort as sorrow enveloped her.

Imagery gives a vibrant, graphic, and pictorial presentation of the poem’s ideas or messages. It attracts the reader’s senses and aids them in imagining the characters or scenes in a written work. Imagery puts us in a sensory experience, as expressed in words. Feel the wholeness of that sensory experience in the imagery used in the excerpts below. Underline the words that pertain to the types of imagery you have spotted. Spot as many as you can.

“Alone With Sítá” (an excerpt)
The Ramayana of Valmiki

So Ráma, to his purpose true,
To Queen Kausalya bade adieu,
Received the benison she gave,
And to the path of duty clave.

As through the crowded street he passed,
A radiance on the way he cast,
And each fair grace, by all approved,
The bosoms of the people moved.

Up Sitá sprang, and every limb
Trembled with fear at the sight of him.
She marked that cheek where anguish fed,
Those senses care-disquieted.

No elephant precedes the crowd,
Like a huge hill or thundercloud,
Marked from his birth for happy fate,
Whom signs auspicious decorate.
Why does no henchman, young and fair,
Precede thee and delight to bear,
Entrusted to his reverent hold,
The burden of thy throne of gold?